When fast-track living threatens personal meltdown, some people escape to exotic islands. Others create their own retreat within the private sanctuary of their bathroom where candlelight, sensuous oils and caressingly warm water restore body, mind and spirit. No wonder we are once again succumbing to the indulgent pleasures of a glamorous bath tub after a brief flirtation with high-tech shower cabinets and wet rooms.
Of course, homeowners aren’t ditching power showers entirely, but their speedy functionality is increasingly relegated to morning ablutions. After a hard day’s work or a hectic evening, only a peaceful soak in a spacious tub can provide the calm and comfort we seek. “Bathing and showering are totally different experiences,” says Hayley Tarrington, senior designer at bathroom specialist CP Hart. “People are increasingly looking for the pampering and relaxation provided by a well-designed, contemporary bath as an antidote to busy lifestyles.”
Naturally, not just any old tub will do. “Contemporary baths, especially freestanding designs, are deeper, wider and much more comfortable than in the past because they’re made from new, composite materials that can be poured and moulded rather than constructed from rigid sheets,” says Tarrington. Cheryl Gurner, creative director of Bathrooms International, agrees: “They’re bigger, deeper and ergonomically designed so even big men can lie back in comfort and be immersed.” Nor is size the sole consideration. Fluid, sculptural shapes and velvety, matte finishes make the latest baths more elegant and sensual to touch. “They look much less clinical, which is important where bathrooms merge with bedrooms,” says Tarrington.
A more feminine aesthetic is also in demand. Significantly, top bathroom manufacturer Hansgrohe Axor recently commissioned its first female designer – Milan-based Patricia Urquiola – to produce a glamorous bathroom characterised by gentle curves and a subtle sensuality. The 80-piece collection has everything (from taps to basins) needed to create a spa-like suite at home.
This new collaboration includes a charming, freestanding, moulded acrylic bath (£5,960) that, in Tarrington’s words, “is a modern take on the traditional slipper bath with one end higher than the other”. Unlike its historical predecessor, though, this bath is a roomy 180cm x 80cm. It’s also highly practical with slots for towels at the higher end which do double-duty by cushioning the bather’s head.
Period slipper baths also inspired US manufacturer Victoria & Albert’s Amalfi (£2,500, from NGI Design) whose gently contoured sides sweep to the floor uncluttered by pipework since it is filled from freestanding or wall-mounted taps. Made of Quarrycast (a mix of volcanic limestone and resin) in a one-piece casting, it is extremely strong yet lightweight and smooth to touch.
Urquiola, meanwhile, has updated a traditional steel tub in her role as creative director of W Hotel in Vieques Island, giving the deep tub curved ends with a white interior finish and dark grey exterior. The bath, now in Agape’s collection (from £7,555), comes with an optional teak back-rest (£841) and shelf (£498). “It envelops you in an almost maternal embrace,” says Agape’s CEO, Emanuele Benedini. “It’s a very charismatic bath with a strong personality.”
A contemporary twist on an Edwardian-style tub is also apparent in Agape’s Novecento collection in which Cristalplant (a composite of natural minerals and pure polyester and acrylic polymers) is used to create sculptural shapes while retaining elegantly timeless features. Nuda (from £6,072), for example, has a slim outer rim and base supports that raise the bath off the floor like an old-fashioned tub. But unlike a period tub, the material feels silky, and can absorb and maintain the water’s warmth.
Just as shapely is Michael Bouquillon’s Strip bath, designed for Aquamass (£5,585, exclusively from CP Hart), whose fluid sides are folded, wing-like, as if from paper or fabric. It is made from a single moulding of Cristalplant, which gives it delicacy and strength. This innovative material also creates the deep, bowl-like shape of CP Hart’s bestselling Stone One bath (£6,463), designed by Paolo Chipiron for Aquamass. This simply styled tub is available in a variety of finishes – faux leather, suede or damask and also faux-snakeskin, cowhide, crocodile or zebra (£6,463). Equally graceful is Bathrooms International’s Papillon (from £35,250), a curvaceous bowl with a pleasingly asymmetric top carved from marble, granite or limestone.
A luxurious bathroom with an eye-catching tub can add value as well as glamour to a property. Take two new Belgravia town houses designed by Rigby & Rigby, and on the market for £6.65m (Eaton Terrace) and £6.95m (Wilton Place). Both have luxe master bathrooms with baths chosen from BC Design’s Thinn range, says developer Steve Rigby, “for their thin resin composition and contemporary shapes”, including Kurv, a scooped bowl mounted on a slim plinth (£2,874), and Shiu (£2,530), a more sculptural bath with flared sides that would look as good in a traditional setting as in a contemporary room. Both are graceful, yet made from durable Cian, a scratch- and stain-resistant, solid surface material.
Thanks to the arrival of such materials, designers are now able to mould wonderful new shapes that up the bath’s glam quotient. Check out Boffi’s Terra bath (£14,550), created by Naoto Fukasawa using Cristalplant. Technically, this large mono-bloc bath tub has no joining points – the bathing area is scooped out from its overall volume. Aesthetically, its sensual form is reminiscent of a raindrop imprinted on sand, inviting bathers to relax within its harmonious curves. In a particularly Oriental touch, the lateral water supply echoes a mini waterfall.
French designer Jean-Marie Massaud’s big, freestanding bath for Hansgrohe Axor (£8,660) is also inspired by nature. Its elliptical shape marries free-flowing lines with an organic form and, at 200cm x 165cm x 80cm, offers bathers a generous soak. While displaying Massaud’s signature skill in reduction and lightness, the design is a brave attempt to exemplify his “vision of complete harmony between man, nature and technology”. Yet such a design would not have existed without the development of resin transfer moulding processes that give rigidity to the polyurethane foam from which it’s made. And just as innovative is the polyester gel coating that gives the tub a smooth, warm finish akin to natural stone.
Axor, whose baths grace Bulgari hotels in Milan and Bali, Shanghai’s Grand Hyatt and the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona, has turned to Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for its latest tub. Launched last month, the organic lines of this fitted, acrylic bath flow out into surrounding surfaces that could hold a drink, a book, candles and aromatherapy essences (price yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press).
Even more sculptural is the flower-inspired Callas bath by Vincenzo Catoio. Its sleek, soaring lines won Catoio a prestigious Red Dot design award for his prototype (about €12,000). Although he is still seeking a manufacturer, his design approach shows how far we’ve moved from the purely functional aspects of bathing. “Now more than ever we need empathic experiences that can give us moments of wellness,” he says. “My design is nothing more than a vehicle through which we experience these feelings – our real objective.”
It’s this emotional pull that’s increasingly attracting homeowners to designs such as Kaldewei’s enamelled steel Bassino (from £5,438) whose dimensions (200cm x 100cm) allow bathers to stretch out and float freely in the water as if in the open sea. A cushion keeps the head above water, while a shelf can be used for storage or seating. The manufacturer claims that free-floating “achieves a rapid, deep physical and mental relaxation” – as many people who have experienced a flotation tank will confirm. It seems there’s something about apparent weightlessness that soothes the mind, relaxes muscles and promotes harmonious feelings.
Even dreamier is the Seaside Waterfall bath from Italian spa designer Teuco (from £10,335). Conjuring thoughts of tropical islands and deserted beaches, its modulated interior is reminiscent of a shoreline since it rises gently to a platform where comfortable cushions invite post-bathing relaxation. Water cascades from an illuminated waterfall extending along one side of the tub while perimeter lighting adds to the atmospheric interplay of light on water.
You can unwind alone or in company in this sizeable (215cm x 200cm) bath. Floating freely within its elegant, clean lines evokes the feeling of being suspended in time and place while a classic air-massage system encourages relaxation. Concealed tap fittings and a remote control system give the impression you are not in a bathroom at all. Nor need you be, since this desirable tub could be located as invitingly in a living or sleeping area as in a bathroom. Just lie back and escape.